How to Decide What You Want & Need in a College

Tyson Schritter / Colleges of Distinction »

With so many different colleges out there, it can be daunting to find the one that is right for you. Many factors comprise the college experience, and differentiating between what you want and need from a college experience can be fun and intimidating. Deciding these things can be overwhelming, but if you take the time to reflect on the factors most important to you, you’ll create a clearer pathway toward your best college experience.

It’s time to brainstorm! Take about fifteen to thirty minutes to think about your priorities and all the things you want to get out of college, writing without censorship and then reflecting on what you’ve written. You will likely find that you already have a pretty good idea of certain aspects that matter to you. That said, there are so many aspects of college to consider that it may be easy to forget one thing or another.

Take a look at this article to see some essential factors to consider. Depending on your individual priorities, any one of these general details could make or break your decision. Connect with what you want and get one step closer to finding the college that fulfills your interests.


The location of your school is one of the most important factors to consider, as it will affect such aspects of your college experience as your daily commute, how often you can visit home, and so much more. Importantly, location will influence your financial costs and standard of living; if you choose a college out-of-state, you opt into more expensive tuition costs, whereas attending an in-state school is likely to be cheaper.

Consider the environment you prefer. This is, after all, your home for the next four years! How do you feel about different climates throughout the country? Do you want to attend school in near a big city, or would you rather live in a smaller college town? Will you have a car, or will you be relying on public transportation?

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College size:

Another important factor to consider is size of the college. How big is the student body? In many cases, the amount of students who attend a school can directly affect your experience both in and outside of the classroom. For instance, a larger student body might mean that there are more large, lecture-style classes, while a smaller student body are likely to have more collaborative classroom environments. As you look at different schools on the Colleges of Distinction website, you can easily find the size of their student body as well the student-to-professor ratio. These stats can help you get a better idea of how easy it will be to talk one-on-one with your professor, which could greatly impact your performance in class.

The size of a school can also provide insight on the amount and kinds of extracurricular activities available. How much do you want to stand out in a crowd? How much variety do you want?

Majors Offered:

It’s okay if you aren’t yet sure of what you want to major in. In fact, many students even change their major while they’re in college. If you are undecided, it would be wise to research the selection of programs that are available at each school you consider. A greater variety of majors will give you more options to explore and discover what interests you.

Career Preparation:

Your career after college is arguably one of the most important things to get out of your experience during college. If you know what you want your career path to look like, then you can be a step above the rest with a high-quality career services department. Career development services like résumé building and editing, mock interviews, and job and internship listings can be beneficial resources that help put your college career into action in the workforce.

Even if you don’t have a clue about what you want your career to look like, a well-developed career services department can help you identify your interests and help direct you toward a profession you’re passionate about.

Extracurricular Activities:

Think about your hobbies, passions, and all the things you might want to be involved in on campus. Whether you’re passionate about student government, sports, community engagement, theatre, or anything in between, you can track down a school that allows you to live an active, involved life on campus. College isn’t only about coursework—find a school that lets you do what you love, try new things, and have fun!

Academic and Support Services:

Life happens. Classes will be challenging, roommates will have conflict, and stress may weigh on you. You’re only human, and it’s natural—even expected—to feel the need for extra support through all the new and unfamiliar challenges that come from this formative time of your life.

What kind of support do you benefit from? Does your school offer academic or mental health counseling? Whether you’re struggling in class or dealing with a personal issue, you will benefit from a school that has the resources to help. Be conscious of what you might need, and look for a school that will be able to keep you healthy, happy, and successful.


However daunting the cost of college may be, it is a huge determining factor of where you can go. Determine what you can really afford. That alone will narrow your choices down to the schools with attainable costs. Also keep in mind that, because tuition prices are not fixed, colleges can increase their costs at their own free will. Understand how much wiggle room you have to navigate the finances.

Depending on your circumstances, you might not have to bear the financial burden by yourself. Research the different financial aid packages each school offers to help you make a choice.


After you’ve spent some time reflecting on what is most important to you, put them in order of importance. If attending a school closest to home is the most important factor to you, then put that at the top of your list. If choosing a school from which you can graduate with the least amount of debt is essential, then make it a priority.

Continue ranking the factors in order of importance, and soon you will have a solid idea of what you really want and need from a college. And just like that, your personalized list will act as a valuable guide as you evaluate prospective schools.

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